Marvel's blockbuster 'Black Panther' has already raked in a stunning worldwide haul of $218 million to become the biggest February opener ever and the fifth biggest opening in the world.
Chadwick Boseman as the franchise's first African American superhero can only have helped persuade yet more fans to go and see it when he posed topless for the cover of Rolling Stone's March edition complete with rippling abs.
"Chad gave a hell of a performance," says Michael B. Jordan, who co-stars as his archnemesis, Killmonger. "I couldn't imagine anybody else."
A few weeks before the movie opens, Boseman is trying to lay low, sipping peppermint tea at the hipster L.A. coffee shop where he used to come to write, back when he was an aspiring screenwriter freshly arrived from New York. He's in head-to-toe black – cardigan, T-shirt, chinos, socks – except for some suede Valentino sneakers and a beaded necklace of Pan-African red, gold and green. He's tall and lean, with long, elegant fingers and the knuckles of a boxer. (Coogler says they would sometimes spar on set to get amped up.) One of his strengths as an actor is a quiet, intense watchfulness, and he's the same in real life, taking in the world with a skeptical half-squint. ("I see everything," Boseman says.) When he does speak, he's invariably thoughtful and thorough. "You're saying I'm long-winded!" he says, laughing.
In some ways, Boseman is a funny fit for a blockbuster action star. He's "90 percent" vegan, casually name-checks radical black intellectuals like Yosef Ben-Jochannan and Frantz Fanon, and says he gets anxious onstage or in front of crowds. ("Going on a talk show? Oh, my God. Nah.") But he also knows he's a conduit for something bigger: "I truly believe there's a truth that needs to enter the world at a particular time. And that's why people are excited about Panther.This is the time."
It's a watershed moment for African-Americans and Hollywood. The cast is a murderers' row of talent – in addition to Boseman and Jordan, there's Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and several actors of immediate African descent, including Star Wars' Lupita Nyong'o (who grew up in Kenya), ''The Walking Dead's' Danai Gurira (who was raised in Zimbabwe) and Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya (whose parents immigrated to England from Uganda). And it's not just the first superhero movie with a predominantly black cast – it's the first with a black director, black writers, black costume and production designers, and a black executive producer. Community groups are renting out whole theaters to screen it; people are running crowd-funding campaigns to buy tickets for black kids who might not be able to see it otherwise.
"We were making a film about what it means to be African," Coogler says. "It was a spirit that we all brought to it, regardless of heritage. The code name for the project was Motherland, and that's what it was. We all went to school on Africa."